Oyelowo, who played Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, but was snubbed in the Academy nominations, discussed his thoughts while being honored during an ceremony honoring him as one of 2014’s best actors.
“[T]his is truly my feeling— felt this before the situation we’re talking about and I feel it now—generally speaking, we, as black people. have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being at the center of our own narrative,” he said. Then he went really deep, into the conversation many black movie lovers have many times every year.
Like what many black people have said (including me), Oyelowo said that Sidney Poitier should have won for his role as Det. Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night instead of what he did win for, Lillies of the Field,”
(Lillies of the Field, by the way, is a terrible film in which Poitier plays a strong ne’er-do-well that is changed for the better by white nuns because he helped them build a church—a lot of “black brute” and sexualization themes were in this film for sure.)
Oyelowo also said Denzel Washington should have won for taking on the role of Malcolm X. Basically, Oyelowo just stated everything a lot of black movie fans believe about the filmmaking industry, the Oscars, and how they selectively award certain black roles.
“[W]e’ve just got to come to the point whereby there isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy—a notion who black people are—that feeds into what we are celebrated as, not just in the Academy, but in life generally,” said Oyelowo. “We have been slaves, we have been domestic servats, we have been criminals, we have been all of those things. But we have been leaders, we have been kings, we have been those who changed the world.”
Oyelowo also talked about how films that do show black people in a positive light are some of the hardest films to get made. “…I mean, [King] was assasinated almost 50 years ago. There has been no film where Dr. King has been the center of his own narrative until now. That’s because up until 12 Years a Slave and The Butler did so well, both critically and at the box office, films like this were told through the eyes of white protagonists because there is a fear of white guilt,” he said. “So you have a very nice white person who holds black people’s hands through their own narrative. We don’t want to see that pain again, so you don’t even go into what that pain was in an authentic way. Both of those things are patronizing to the audience. You can’t have people curating culture in this way when we need to see things in order to reform from them.”
You can watch the full video right here. You can also read more about this at The Hollywood Reporter.
My opinions only boil down to this: HURRAH! This needed to be said because it’s freaking annoying.
How come the only roles black women and men have been nominated for or won are when they’re either villains or in a subservient position? This occurrence often leads people to believe that the Oscars only serves to prop up white guilt and the idea that black people are “happy” being considered lower-class. That Oyelowo is saying it on a big stage is great. I say that Oyelowo should stick it to the Oscars and any other organization that needs it stuck to. Bravo, sir.
What do you think of his comments? Give your opinions in the comments section below.